Labour pain

THE Ministry of Labour and Social Security is moving to correct several safety hazards identified at its National Heroes’ Circle office.

Jamaica Observer sources say during a recent examination of the building by the ministry’s Occupational Health and Safety Department a number of fire hazards were identified.

These include emergency exits blocked with boxes used for storage, blocked access to fire extinguishers, non-functional pull stations for fire alarms, and at least one missing fire hose.

The building houses mainly the social security operations of the ministry, with dozens of employees based there.

Responding to questions from the Jamaica Observer during a post-Cabinet media briefing at Jamaica House on Wednesday, recently appointed Minister of Labour and Social Security Pearnel Charles Jr said he has not been made aware of any safety issues at the building.

Permanent secretary in ministry Colette Roberts Risden also told the briefing that the ministry’s building officers have not reported any safety issues at the building, which is approximately 50 years old.

“As a matter of fact, we recently completed refurbishing work on the basement and the ground floor and those areas were outfitted with emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers and fire suppression, so I am not aware,” Roberts Risden said as she urged the Observer to share its information with the ministry.

“We are always open to improvement,” added Roberts Risden.

When the information was shared with her after the media briefing Roberts Risden argued that the findings of its Occupational Health and Safety Department were being taken out of context.

According to Roberts Risden, the findings were part of the ministry’s efforts to improve safety at the building.

She said the findings were part of a training exercise at the building, and efforts have started to reduce the risks.

“We are doing things gradually. We have done the basement and we have done the ground floor and we are working on them. As part of the effort, we have appointed safety officers across the ministry because we are located in 20 different locations and this is part of our efforts to improve safety in the workplace,” said Roberts Risden as she added that improvements are being made floor by floor at the Heroes’ Circle building.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is the State entity leading efforts by the Government to enact a new Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

The legislation will aim to protect workers and other people from harm to their safety, health, and welfare through the elimination or minimisation of hazards, serious injury, or risks arising out of or in connection with activities at workplaces.

Making his presentation to the sectoral debate on April 23, then Minister of Labour and Social Security Karl Samuda listed the OSHA as one of three priority Bills being worked on by the ministry.

At that time Samuda noted that an Occupational Safety and Health Bill was being considered by a joint select committee before Parliament was dissolved in 2020.

“There were extensive comments and it was determined that a new Bill incorporating these comments should be prepared. We now have a first draft of a new Bill. Revised drafting instructions were sent to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and while we await a second draft Bill, the ministry continues to work assiduously with a view to having the Bill finalised and ultimately submitted to Parliament for its deliberations.

“When enacted, OSHA will apply to all workplaces, including persons whose employment status is classified as independent contractors and workers in both the formal and informal economies,” Samuda said in one of his final public statements before being replaced by Charles Jr at the ministry.